US NEEDS TO KEEP AN EYE ON THE SUB CONTINENT AND INDO-PAKISTAN NUCLEAR DETERRENCE
While it is occupied with its nuclear summit with North Korea, the Trump administration needs to tell both India and Pakistan that it is watching them closely, and that they need to show restraint with each other in both the conventional and nuclear realm.
Recent events and provocations by Pakistan such as the deadly Pakistan-backed Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist bombing attack on Indian forces in the disputed Kashmir and Indian air strikes in retaliation on the terrorist camp in Pakistan have increased tensions between the two nuclear-armed powers. The JeM attack in Kashmir was the deadliest in years killing 46 Indian soldiers and destroying several Indian army vehicles. The Indian air strike on the JeM camp in Pakistan is believed to have killed between 200 and 300 Pakistan-backed terrorist fighters. There are now increased reports of fighting along the Line of Control and another report of a fight in the air which downed aircraft of both sides. It is provocation and the inevitable retaliation that concerns us all today between India and Pakistan.
India has essentially formalized its 'Cold Start' strategic doctrine that calls in the event of hostilities with Pakistan for rapid armor-led spearheads of troops to move into Pakistan to prevent the Pakistani military from using tactical nuclear weapons to repel the attack. If the Pakistanis are forced to use them, it will be on Pakistani soil. Both powers India and Pakistan have strategic level nuclear forces to bush each other’s cities and those of their neighbors and there is a degree of deterrence in this that neither wants to risk their cities and citizens in a nuclear exchange. India and Pakistan both have tactical nuclear devices of short range that might be used in a war. Here there is a difference. With India’s massive conventional army poised to launch into ‘Cold Start’ at any sign of hostilities, Pakistan has forward deployed its tactical nuclear forces and likely lessened or delegated down control of these nuclear weapons and their use to unit commanders rather than the senior military leadership of the country.
This constitutes two clear problems. It constitutes a problem of command and control and it constitutes a problem in that it is highly destabilizing. The Indian strategy of ‘Cold Start is not much better in that it comes with a whiff of or a presumption of preemption. The best way for Pakistan to avoid preemption is to strike those forward deployed Indian forces first with tactical nuclear weapons hoping that India will not go forward with a full-blown strike at Pakistani cities. The rational for strategic deterrence here that the Pakistanis could then do the same to India and its cities and its inhabitants. The Pakistani gamble would be that the Indians pull back after a tactical exchange. But there is a further danger in this devolution of command and control of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear forces in that the country suffers from Islamic extremism, terrorism and that the government sometimes supports terror and sometimes does not. If command and control devolve down to lower commanders, then there is always a chance that terrorists could get their hands-on nuclear weapons and use them when and where they wish. In the past, there have been terrorist attacks on sites where it is believed Pakistan has stored its strategic level nuclear weapons. To carry out these assaults it is very likely that the terrorists had a degree of insider knowledge and perhaps even assistance.
Which brings be to my final points. The levels of paranoia and distaste between both South Asian states remain high. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence is famous for its paranoia, split personality, and flirting with Islamic terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It is Pakistan’s attachment to provocation with India and both sides preoccupation with preemption that should be a concern to us all. President Trump needs to dispatch his National Security Adviser or Secretary of State to lay down the law to both sides before they stumble into full-scale war.